LTE CAT-1 BIS Versus CAT-M Versus NB-IoT

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LPWA networks Wireless Logic
Illustration: © IoT For All

Cellular community operators (MNOs) are shutting down their 2G and 3G networks in markets throughout the globe. That’s a severe problem for producers of IoT units, and one main worldwide supplier of e-scooters was decided to satisfy it head-on. The corporate’s e-scooters had initially linked to mobile 2G and 3G networks. They wanted to modernize and future-proof their fleet, and this meant new connectivity {hardware} and new SIMs—ideally with a single SIM for each market. This could enable them to create a single product stock-keeping unit (SKU), driving value and complexity out of producing and deployment processes.

Like each IoT system producer scrambling to deal with the sunsetting of 2G and 3G networks, this e-scooter firm checked out NB-IoT and CAT-M and turned to Wi-fi Logic for steerage. Some nationwide markets have nice help for one or the opposite. A number of help each. Nobody is aware of what MNO protection for both will appear like in just a few years—or perhaps a few weeks. As an illustration, Japan’s NTT DoCoMo discontinued its NB-IoT service in early 2020. 

For an IoT system that operates between networks and throughout borders, constant operation throughout regional community protection areas is a elementary requirement that neither LTE-M nor NB-IoT can ship on right now. Wi-fi Logic ran a course of that helped the e-scooter producer perceive after which assess the totally different trade-offs to be made. In the end the client prioritized time-to-market over a modest {hardware} cost-saving and (for them) modest battery life advantages. They opted for the LTE CAT-1 protocol. LTE CAT-1 generally, and the one antenna model known as LTE CAT-1 BIS specifically (we are going to use CAT-1 from right here on, however we’re referring particularly to CAT-1 BIS), are already current in each community’s expertise stack throughout the globe. In all places MNOs help 4G networks—just about all over the place—CAT-1 is able to join, with no community shut-downs anticipated.

In distinction, the client couldn’t be sure that CAT-M or NB-IoT availability would align with their new pan-European product launch plans, nor that they might stay accessible all through the lifetime of their units. They knew CAT-1 would. They measured the overall value of possession (TCO) for his or her scooters versus the fee and lifespan of a CAT-1 module. It was match. Furthermore, the simplicity of a single module that works in each nationwide market made CAT-1 the appropriate alternative for these kind of mobility functions. In case your units labored completely nicely on 2G or 3G networks in a number of geographies, it could possibly be best for you, too. 

However CAT-1 isn’t a panacea. As any IoT resolution supplier is aware of, there are trade-offs for any LTE IoT customary. Right here’s what you have to learn about the place CAT-1 sits in a debate that, too usually, presents itself as a binary between CAT-M and NB-IoT. 

The Challenges of NB-IoT and CAT-M for World Operations

To get an thought of the uneven roll-out of NB-IoT and CAT-M, look no additional than the GSMA Cellular IoT Deployment Map. Look over at Portugal, locked into NB-IoT protection. You possibly can’t at present roll out a CAT-M system there. Then have a look at Mexico, which conversely solely helps CAT-M. You possibly can’t roll out NB-IoT there. So what for those who plan to promote your system in each markets? Twin-mode modules that help each CAT-M and NB-IoT are definitely accessible, however a single SIM that may deal with each applied sciences in a number of international locations doesn’t exist. 

Whereas this map is a useful software for system producers, it additionally has its limitations. The GSMA doesn’t present loads of native element on what works the place. The map shows the U.Okay. as solely purple (which means each LTE-M and NB-IoT are supported.) That’s true on the nationwide degree, however not regionally. Protection for LTE-M is increasing, however at the same time as this text is printed, LTE-M solely covers round half of the nation. In the meantime, NB-IoT protection is mostly extra widespread than LTE-M within the U.Okay. however nonetheless doesn’t cowl all areas at present. The purpose is, even this map paints a very optimistic image of CAT-M and NB-IoT help throughout the globe. 

We’re left with a snapshot in time that reveals NB-IoT and CAT-M as a patchwork quilt of potential doubt for international system producers. If one of many two applied sciences will get broader adoption inside a sure area, MNOs could merely reduce help for the opposite. That is already occurring, as we noticed with the case of NTT DoCoMo shutting down its NB-IoT service.

IoT producers have to know their merchandise will work all over the place they’re bought for your entire lifespan of the system. Ideally, they gained’t face the expense of dividing their product strains into a number of SKUs, one for every market. A number of SKUs result in increased (and sometimes hidden) TCO for IoT units. CAT-1 modules present this common skill—and so they additionally function in areas of the world that don’t but have help for CAT-M or NB-IoT, like your entire continent of Africa. These are huge markets. For the foreseeable future, solely CAT-1 can open them.

So if CAT-1 BIS gives future-proof, international performance for IoT units, why do NB-IoT and CAT-M get all the eye? One main cause is that they introduce novel benefits, which we’ll talk about under. Producers and IoT resolution suppliers should look intently at their markets, use circumstances, value targets, and energy budgets to make the appropriate alternative—and, relying on these specifics, any of those three protocols could also be viable.      

Evaluating CAT-1 BIS, LTE CAT-M, and NB-IoT

CAT-M and NB-IoT are grabbing headlines with their low energy necessities. After all, there are numerous methods to satisfy your system’s energy price range. Your system may get parked or docked and recharge within the course of, or it would get visited by a technician for regular help and repair. It’s possible you’ll use rechargeable or swappable batteries. For stationary units, power-saving capabilities like Energy Saving Mode (PSM) and eDRX are very precious—though, in the intervening time, PSM and eDRX don’t all the time perform when roaming throughout networks.   In the end, it’s true that when in comparison with CAT-M and NB-IoT, CAT-1 requires extra energy. On the identical time, it solely makes use of a single antenna, making CAT-1 modules simpler to suit into units. (Older CAT-1 modules used two antennas, so that they took up more room.) 

All of this implies CAT-M or NB-IoT could also be a greater possibility for longer-lived merchandise. These modules can last as long as 10 years, in comparison with lower than half that for CAT-1 units. That’s why it’s important to contemplate product life when selecting an LTE IoT customary. In case your units are solely meant to final for 3 or 4 years, and also you wish to deploy them as a single SKU the world over, CAT-1 has very actual advantages.  

Then there’s the difficulty of value. Relying on unit volumes, you’ll pay a bit extra for CAT-1 modules than for CAT-M or NB-IoT—however over the timespan of a tool lifetime, that small further value disappears fairly rapidly. The price per megabyte (MB) is roughly the identical throughout all these applied sciences, nonetheless, and the near-universal entry and roaming situation for CAT-1 means it’s far cheaper than CAT-M and NB-IoT.  

CAT-1 BIS for World IoT Machine Deployment

Briefly, CAT-1 is a robust contender for any international IoT system producer, notably in cell property. There’s proof that it’s catching on; whereas the worldwide marketplace for mobile IoT modules shrank by 8% in 2020, CAT-1 grew to cowl 23% of SIMs bought outdoors of China (which has invested closely in NB-IoT—regardless of that expertise locking customers right into a single MNO relationship).